The New Decay

for those who love myusik

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

"You want to take a photograph, then take a photograph of me!"

And So it begins ....

What follows is the first instalment of what is to be a weekly endeavor to focus my thoughts (and thus hopefully others) on specific albums, artists, jerkfaces or whatever, in the hopes of making this whole blogging thing that much more enjoyable. It will coincide with a weekly pick that I will be focusing on during my radio show 'The New Decay' which airs on 101.5 umfm in Winnipeg MB at 2:00pm Central time. This is a new thing, and I haven't really put much thought into as to why I want to be doing this (hence the already confusing introduction), but hopefully I have enough stamina/interest to keep this up. It all started on last weeks show where I focused on Joanna Newsom's new (and metaphysically awesome) album Y's. This week I will be focusing on Swan Lake's album Beast Moans which came out this Tuesday.

Dan Bejar on 'Shooting Rockets'

I remember seeing Dan Bejar this past summer in Chicago performing with his group Destroyer. The highlight of this concert came as Bejar was about to break into his epic song 'Looters Follies' (easily one of the best songs of the year) when he turned to the crowd and said, with a certain amount of disdain in his voice, 'This song is about...' then he paused, looked back at the rest of his band, turned back to the crowd and finished by grunting and hitting his guitar and then just going straight into his song. It was if he caught himself doing something that was completely against his nature. Something he promised he would never do but now did. It was an acccident, but it still happened. It was at that moment, in a fragile and precarious way, that Bejar offered a short glimpse as to the truth behind much of what high art struggles to point towards.

Typically, when approaching an album (or any work of art), the tendency is to tear the album apart, in hopes of uncovering the true meaning or intent of what that album was created for. We go through the liner notes, focus on the artwork, pay attention to the instrumentation, read countless reviews, analysis', and interviews, all in the hopes of discovering what the artist was wanting to accomplish with this album. It's as if there is some profound lesson to be learned, that requires our ability to master the art of interpretation in order for it to be discovered. This, then, assumes that the artist, in some way, shape or form, has also mastered the art of creating music in an intentional, almost mechanistic way. They sit down and think 'what do I want to teach the world with this record?' and then discuss how best to accomplish this task, and then creat.

My question is, what if there is no intent? What if the artist doesn't want the song to have a single concise meaning that can be uncovered through interepretation? What if there music is more properly understood as a long series of accidents, rather than some coherent, intentional practice?

This is where Swan Lake and their recent release Beast Moans comes in. (Quick explaination;
Swan Lake= Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes/Blackout Beach, Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown and Dan Bejar of Destroyer, New Pornos, Bonaparte, Vancouver Nights, aka the sexiest collaboration since the Traveling Willberries). If someone were to choose one word that is able to describe Swan Lake, a good case could be made for 'accident'. Few artists are as open to or see the importance for allowing the space necessary for accidents in their art as Krug, Mercer and Bejar, and with Swan Lake this all culminates itself in a stunning collection of songs that both swoon and irritate all at the same moment. A collection of songs that at no point ask for some explanation. These songs don't need to be interpreted to say anything. They speak enough on their own right.

It would be a mistake to approach this as a side project playing on tendencies already illuminated through Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes and Destroyer. Swan Lake is its own thing, and it needs to be listened to in such a way. That said, it's significance is best understood by its differences from those groups. Take Spencer Krug's songs on the album as an example. Here his songs are stripped down in ways that don't appear on his previous experiements. 'All Fires' is an acoustic number almost devoid of the electronic leanings we've come to expect from the mad organist in the past. Stripped down Krug's songs are given the space needed to breathe a little and thus end up coming across in wholly different and fascintating ways than those of Wolf Parad and Sunset Rubdown.

Probably the manner in which the difference alluded to in Beast Moans is made most explicitly is through the vocal mix. Krug, Mercer and Bejar are word people. Much of the joy of listening to these awesome singer songwriters comes through their way in which they are able to use words in unthinkable (and often frustrating) ways. However, here the vocals are taken down a notch in the mix. They give way to the the rest of the instrumentation thus serving more as a contribution to the texture of the song than to the lyrical components of the songs. This isn't to say that the words have no significance, and aren't good. What has been appreciated in each artist's lyrics in the past break through in Beast Moans as well (Krug's faux renaisance, Mercer's run-on sentences, and Bejar's self-referencing). However, in Beast Moans they seem to serve a bit of a different purpose, adding to the already captivating textures present in the song.

Much of this is in a way beside the point as Beast Moans most triumphant moments arise pricesly at those times of the unexpected. It is Mercer, Krug, and Bejar's openess to the accidental that allows this record to work. It is that missed vocal note, those hollow drum beats, or the spastic guitar that grabs the listener most. As a result, Beast Moans is as precarious and fragile an album as you will ever hear, and it is this fragility that will keep you coming back for more.
Postcript: - good swan lake musings here.
- buy the record here